May Report

May is a special time of year for birders. Spring migration season is exciting and fast paced in a way which Fall migration is not.

This time around, there were some disappointing misses. I was never at Pelee during a true warbler “fallout”. I missed the two Cuckoo species and a number of warbler species I was hoping to find. My shorebird counts were dismal. The Essex lagoons were lacking mudflats, and consequently the shorebird turnout there was very sparse. These gripes notwithstanding, this was a fantastic May. I saw 137 species this month (last May it was 97) and 9 lifers. Now my Essex County year total is at 181, only 19 species away from my goal!

Two Snowy Owls in the town of Essex were still showing at the beginning of the month. Imagine that! May Snowy Owl sightings within five minutes of my house!!! A year ago, I would have never guessed! I hope to add one to my June list, but who knows?

I had some fantastic warbler hauls at various “lesser” migration hotspots such as Sadler’s Pond and Malden Park. As usual during Spring migration, on a good day these smaller hotspots were superb in warbler diversity.

I ended up getting out to Point Pelee twice. The first time was an active day a little too early in the season. The second day was a slow day a little too late in the season. Neither day lived up to Point Pelee’s potential. However, a slow day in May at Pelee, is quite active! A major highlight was getting to bird with some excellent local birders including Jeremy Bensette, Tim Arthur, Jeremy Hatt, and Rick Mayos. You learn so much by birding with these fine folks!

My lifers this month were:

  • Grey-cheeked Thrush (May 2–Point Pelee)
  • Prothonotary Warbler (May 2–Point Pelee)
  • Marbled Godwit (May 2–Hillman Marsh)
  • Sora (May 7–Spring Garden)
  • Cape May Warbler (May 10–Sadler’s Pond)
  • Black Scoter (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Acadian Flycatcher (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Willow Flycatcher (May 19–Point Pelee)
  • Cattle Egret (May 22–Point Pelee)

I’m a bit sad that May migration is already over, but it was fun while it lasted. Now we march on to Fall migration! ūüôā

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March Report

I saw 71 bird species in March. My current year tally is 91 species, a bit short of my goal of reaching 100 by the end of March. That said, I’m 8 species ahead of where I was last year at this time.

On March 3, I dropped by Hillman Marsh and Point Pelee with my son and was able to add Green-winged Teal and Sharp-shinned hawk to my year list. On March 7, a night drive through the vicinity of Harrow after helping a friend move allowed me to hear and very briefly see an American Woodcock.

A local birder’s gathering on March 15th which brought me to Point Pelee, Hillman Marsh, and Wheatley Harbour. On the trip there I saw my first Turkey Vultures of the year. I *might* have seen a Northern Shrike, the view was too fleeting to be sure, but it seems to have been very near to the location of a recent sighting.

At Point Pelee, I saw my only lifer of the month (White-winged scoter), a King Eider (!), and Surf Scoters. I still need to find a Black Scoter one of these days! At Hillman, I added Great Egret and Rusty Blackbird to my year list.

Then, on March 21st, I stopped by the CKWW towers and got a photo of an Eastern Meadowlark. What a treat!

To conclude March, on the 28th I found some Bonaparte’s Gulls and Ruddy Ducks.

With the advent of April, things should start getting exciting in the birding world (if they haven’t already gotten exciting toward the end of March!)

According to eBird, there are 37 birds which I haven’t seen yet this year and have more than a 5% frequency in Essex County in April. So, I guess I have my work cut out for me! (in case you are curious, the most frequently seen bird on that list is Tree Swallow and #37 is Pectoral Sandpiper)

I will continue looking for rather common birds that have thus far evaded me this year: Eastern Screech Owl, Double-Crested Cormorant, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Sandhill Crane, and Horned Grebe. I must say that I’m also looking forward to the return of the Swallows! I’m thinking I might have to give up on seeing a Cackling Goose until next winter.

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eBird checklist #1000

I’ve been a member of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird site since 2012 (since then I’ve also submitted data doing back to 2003). Yesterday, I submitted my 1000th checklist.

Like most of my eBird checklists, checklist #1000 was quite ordinary. I went to Lakeview Park and Marina along the Detroit River. Unlike earlier in the winter when the river was partially frozen, there was a meager amount of waterfowl. I did see my first Hooded and Red-Breasted Mergansers of March 2018, but beyond there there wasn’t anything worth mentioning.

(Checklist #1001, on the other hand, was a Snowy Owl I saw in the town of Essex!)

I figured it might be appropriate to celebrate this milestone by sharing my “top 10” checklists.

10. A 6 lifer trip to Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire in July 2017 They were: Purple Finch, Lincoln’s Sparrow, American Bittern, Wood Thrush, Marsh Wren, and Least Flycatcher. Living in Southern ON, it was weird to see 5 warbler species in *July*!

9. The time in May 2017 when before 7am I spent¬†39 minutes at Sadler’s Pond in Essex. This trip yielded 4 lifers and 5 warbler species. And a 36 minute trip to Malden Park later that day brought the lifer count up to 9 for the day! Between the two trips, that’s a lifer every 8 minutes!

8. My first Great Horned Owl. Seen up close at Derwent Park in January 2018.

7. The Hudsonian Godwit at Essex West lagoons in October 2017.  By that point in the fall, the shorebirds present in the lagoons were starting to thin out, but nevertheless, a Godwit showed up among a small group of yellow legs!

6. The Glossy Ibis at the Harrow Lagoons in September 2017. What a treat!

5. The Townsend’s Solitare hanging out at Point Pelee in February 2018, a extremely rare vagrant which seems to have been way off course.

4. The time when I was able to add Short-eared owl to my life-list in February 2017! And not just one, but five of them!

3. The amazingly up-close views of a young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron I got along the River Canard in September 2017. And that was after a couple failed attempts to find it! I was ready to give up.

2. The epic family trip to Point Pelee in August 2017 that added Wood Stork to the Point Pelee bird list. I submitted a few different checklists from different locations within the park, but here is the one that includes the stork. This incredible rarity was first seen by my lovely wife!

1. The time I was sick at home in May 2012 and a Summer Tanager dropped by (resulting in my first eBird checklist). I live on a busy corner in town, but that does not preclude rarities! This rarity, too, was first seen by my wife!

 

Honorable mentions (but not quite able to make the top ten):

– An amazingly large flight of 19 Ross’s Geese at Jack Miner’s in December 2017.

– The birthday (March 2017) trip to Point Pelee and Hillman Marsh that yielded 7 lifers. It was extremely foggy and visibility was poor, but nonetheless an exciting day.

– A number of short visits to the Essex Lagoons in May and August 2017 which yielded a number of significant lifers (such as Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Bobolink)

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February Report

February started off more slowly than I had anticipated. To be clear, I did enjoy some excellent observations of species I had already seen in January, but year firsts were slow in coming. We’ve been dealing with a great deal of illness in the family and I’m not quite feeling 100% yet either.

It was 2 weeks until I could add a new species to my year list (February 14th I saw a Merlin). Then on the 17th I went out to see the amazing vagrant Townsend’s Solitare (a lifer) that was hanging out at Point Pelee. On that same trip I also was able to check off Rough-legged hawk (also a lifer) and a Red-winged blackbird. On the 25th I got to see a single Ross’s Goose at Jack Miner’s and dropped by at the Essex West lagoons to see a male Northern Shoveler. On the 27th I added an American Coot I found at Lakeview Marina. On the 28th, while it was still dark outside, I was treated to the early morning song of a House Wren. I hope they start using my new nesting boxes!

That brought my February species count to 65 (18 more than last February) and my year count to 80.

Out of the “easier” February targets, I saw 2 out of 5: Red-winged Blackbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Kildeer, and Eastern Screech Owl.

Out of the “harder” February targets, I saw 2 out of 7: Short-eared Owl, Ross’s Goose, Rough-legged Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Species such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cackling Goose, Long-tailed, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Sharp-shinned Hawk have been coming up somewhat frequently in eBird reports lately and for the most part my inability to get them was just merely a result of not being able to get out at the right places/times. Essentially, most of them were there for the easy finding.

In March I hope to find a Cackling Goose. I will also continue to look for Sharp-shinned Hawks, Long-tailed Ducks, and Eastern Screech Owls.

Some easy targets I will be looking for include Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

I need 20 more species to get half way to my year goal (100 of 200) before April.

I looking forward to March birding (Spring is coming!) It is exciting to see some early migrants like ducks, kildeer, and Red-winged Blackbirds moving in. I hope you have a good March!

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January Recap and February Targets

The January Questions

Birders working on a “year list” undoubtedly grapple with two related questions in January: 1. How much time and energy do I spend finding birds which will much easier to find in a few months? 2. How much time and energy do I spend finding birds that may show up again in December?

There are many angles to tackle these questions. Neither question is likely to be settled by a simple either-or equation. On the continuum, my posture this year leans towards “find them now while you can”.
I may indeed be wasting some energy (and warmth!) on birds just as easily (or more easily) found in another part of the year. On the flip side, though, we don’t know the future. Who knows what weather will be like or what bird movements will be like? Who knows how busy I will be later in the year? Who knows what life holds in store?
¬†Regarding question #1, there’s something to be said for the satisfaction of finding a bird when it is less commonly seen. Regarding question #2, for some species December may not be a safe bet. There is certain satisfaction and safety in checking it off now.
A Recap of January
January was a descent start to this “birding year”, totaling 71 species in Essex county–19 ahead of last year. This total includes two lifers (Lapland Longspur and Great Horned Owl) and one first for Essex County (Pine Siskin). The Pine Siskin was my lifetime Essex County bird #199 and the Great Horned Owl was #200!
The most fruitful birding venues have been the Little River Area (east Windsor), which added 24 species to my year list, and the Ojibway Prairie Complex, which added 17 species to my year list.

From the perspective of reaching 200 Essex County species in 2018, I think I can afford to slow down slightly in February. I hope to reach 100 species in Essex County in March and so my main hope for February is to continue to push toward that number with a small handful of FOY (“First of Year”) species.

Some February Targets
In February I’ll focus mostly on some somewhat common birds which have eluded me in January (none of which are lifers), such as the Red-winged Blackbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Kildeer, and Eastern Screech Owl.
¬†A few less common birds will also be on my radar. They’ve also eluded me in January and include the Short-eared Owl, Ross’s Goose, Rough-legged Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Great Horned Owl, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
With some focused effort and determination, I believe knocking off half of these in February is possible.
I hope February treats you well. Spring migration is near!!
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A Recap of 2017

Birds have always fascinated me and I’ve been a “lister” for longer than I’ve considered myself a birder.¬†I’m still on a pretty low rung of what appears to be a lifetime learning process, but this year has been a watershed year of sorts. The hobby has been ramped up a bit. Maybe the gears are slipping a bit–up that is.

I can’t put my finger on a decisive explanation. Maybe I’ve reached the place where you get where you’ve done something for a couple years and it starts to click and the various habits start to set in. Maybe it’s been new connections I’ve made. Maybe there was just a nice influx of really cool migratory species to lure me in this year.

On December 31, 2016, I found my first Red-Breasted Nuthatch over at Sadler’s Pond, the last bird species of the year. It brought my life-list (a bird-nerd term which means “bird species I’ve seen in my life”) to 115. That December brought a lot of cool new species such as a Northern Shrike, Northern Harriers, and Snow Buntings. And then, suddenly, 2017 came, a fresh new year.

Now, almost a full year later, I’m reflecting on 2017 (a full year of fairly heavy-duty birding). In 2017 I’ve birded in two countries and seven states/province, tallying 209 species, 193 in Essex County, Ontario and 103 in the United States. I’ve been able to add 112 “lifers” (bird species I’ve seen for the first time) to my life-list. I suspect that unless I start traveling pretty far south or west, I won’t have another 100+ lifer year!

There have been a lot of great moments. For instance: The time we were doing a family walk (with my wife and three young kids) and my brilliant wife pointed to what proved to be the first Wood Stork to be seen in Ontario in over fifteen years. (She’s a keeper, eh? I mean my wife, not the Wood Stork!) It’s not every day you can add a new species to the Point Pelee list!!! There were also the Short-eared Owls. The Snowy Owls. The Golden Eagles. The Snowy Egret. And the River Canard Yellow Crowned Night Heron. The Hudsonian Godwit, Glossy Ibis, and other amazing varieties of shorebirds at the lagoons. The Olive-Sided Flycatchers. The Eurasian Wigeon. The Little Gull. My first Pileated Woodpeckers. The Red-headed Woodpeckers. The Dickcissel. The Red-Throated Loon that was really up-close. The mini-warbler fallouts in less popular hotspots. There was my first Christmas Bird Count at Point Pelee where a Bohemian Waxwing appeared. I’m probably forgetting some other great moments. Many of these experiences were shared with many great family and friends at my side!

Here are some birds I regret not going to see: the Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Lapland Longspur, and Black-necked Stilt. Hopefully some of these can be added to my list in 2018.

I’m so thankful that, despite being pretty busy, I’ve been able to get out so much and see so much. It’s been a challenging process to get decent photographs, get used to my binocs, and learn to ID species I haven’t come across. I’m very thankful for my wife and children who so patiently and lovingly endure this hobby of mine. (For the record, my son constantly speaks of wanting to go to see ducks and my daughters are very vigilant sidekicks at hawk-spotting). I’m also thankful for the many amazing local birders who have been so helpful, so supportive, and so patient with a newbie like me.

Quite a birdy year it has been! I envision myself continuing to bird in 2018. In some ways, 2017 was a year of great expansion and 2018 will probably involve more consolidation. I don’t anticipate getting as many new species, but I will be attempting to get better at IDs and get to know some of the previously seen birds a little better.¬† I also hope to improve my ability to recognize bird sounds. The prospect of a new year with 4 fresh seasons is rather exciting!

No matter what level of knowledge or interest in birds you have, I hope 2018 is a safe and happy New Year. Good birding and I hope to see you out in the field!

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